What’s your home worth?
It seems like a simple question, but finding that answer is more complicated than it might seem. Sites like Zillow, Redfin, Appraisal, and others have built-in home valuation tools that make it seem easy, but how accurate are they? And which one do you believe if you get three different answers? Online valuation tools have become a key part of the home buying and selling process, but they’ve been proven to be highly unreliable in certain instances. One thing that is for certain is that these valuation tools have reinforced that real estate agents are as vital to the process of pricing a home as they ever were – and maybe even more so now.
There are limitations to every online valuation tool. Most are readily acknowledged by their providers, such as Zillow’s “Zestimate”, which clearly states that it offers a median error rate of 5%, with varying accuracy across the country. That may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that amounts to a difference of about $35,000 for a $700,000 home. For Redfin and Trulia, there are similar ranges in results. When you dig deeper into these valuation tools, it’s no small wonder that there are discrepancies, as they rely on a range of different sources for information, some more reliable than others.
Redfin’s tool pulls information directly from multiple listing services (MLSs) all over the country. Others negotiate limited data sharing deals with those same services, but also rely on public records, as well as homeowners’ records. This can lead to gaps in coverage. These tools can serve as helpful pieces of the puzzle when buying or selling a home, but the acknowledged error rate is a reminder of the dangers of relying too heavily on them.
Home valuation tools can be a useful starting point in the real estate process, but nothing compares to the level of detail and knowledge a professional real estate agent offers when pricing a home. An algorithm can’t possibly know about a home’s unique characteristics or those of the surrounding neighborhood. They also can’t answer your questions about what improvements you can make to get top dollar or how buyer behaviors are shaping the market. All of this – and more – can only be delivered by a trusted professional whose number one priority is getting you the best price in a time frame that meets your needs.
If you’re curious what your home might be worth, Windermere offers a tool that provides a series of evaluations about your property and the surrounding market. And once you’re ready, we’re happy to connect you with a Windermere agent who can clarify this information and perform a Comparative Market Analysis to get an even more accurate estimate of what your home could sell for in today’s market.
Staying organized while uprooting your life and moving from one home to another can feel impossible. Not only are you trying to get the best financial return on your investment, but you might also be working on a tight deadline. There’s also the pressure to keep your home clean and organized at all times for prospective buyers. However, one thing you can be sure of when selling your home is that there will be strangers entering your space, so it’s important for you and your agent to take certain safety precautions. Like so many things in life, they can feel more manageable once written down, so we made this handy checklist.
- Go through your medicine cabinets and remove all prescription medications.
- Remove or lock up precious belongings and personal information. You will want to store your jewelry, family heirlooms, and personal/financial information in a secure location to keep them from getting misplaced or stolen.
- Remove family photos. We recommend removing your family photos during the staging process so potential buyers can see themselves living in the home. It’s also a good way to protect your privacy.
- Check your windows and doors for secure closings before and after showings. If someone is looking to get back into your home following a showing or an open house, they will look for weak locks or they might unlock a window or door.
- Consider extra security measures such as an alarm system or other monitoring tools like cameras.
- Don’t show your own home! If someone you don’t know walks up to your home asking for a showing, don’t let them in. You want to have an agent present to show your home at all times. Agents should have screening precautions to keep you and them safe from potential danger.
Talk to your agent about the following safety precautions:
- Do a walk-through with your agent to make sure you have identified everything that needs to be removed or secured, such as medications, belongings, and photos.
- Go over your agent’s screening process:
- Phone screening prior to showing the home
- Process for identifying and qualifying buyers for showings
- Their personal safety during showings and open houses
- Lockboxes to secure your keys for showings should be up to date. Electronic lockboxes actually track who has had access to your home.
- Work with your agent on an open house checklist:
- Do they collect contact information of everyone entering the home?
- Do they work with a partner to ensure their personal safety?
- Go through your home’s entrances and exits and share important household information so your agent can advise how to secure your property while it’s on the market.
Electing a full sale or a property management situation is a life-changing decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In choosing whether or not becoming a landlord is right for you, there are a number of factors to consider, but primarily they fall into the following three categories: financial analysis, risk, and goals.
The financial analysis is probably the easiest of the three to perform. You will need to assess if you can afford to rent your house. If you consider the likely rental rate, vacancy rate, maintenance, advertising, and management costs, you can arrive at a budget. It is important to both be detailed in your projections and to have enough reserves to cover cash-flow needs if you’re wrong. The vacancy rate will be determined by the price at which you market the property. Price too high and you’re liable to be left vacant. Should you have applicants, they’ll often be a group that for some reason couldn’t compete for more competitively priced homes. Price too low and you don’t achieve the revenue you should. If you want to try for the higher end of an expected range, understand that the cost may be a vacant month. Any way you slice it, it’s difficult to make up for a vacant month.
Consider the other costs renting out your property could accrue. If you have a landscaped or large yard, you will likely need to hire a yard crew to manage the grounds. Other costs could increase when you rent your home, such as homeowner’s insurance and taxes on your property. Depending on tenant turn-over, you may need to paint and deal with maintenance issues more regularly. Renting your home is a decision you need to make with all the financial information in front of you.
If your analysis points to some negative cash-flow, that doesn’t necessarily mean renting is the wrong option. That answer needs to be weighed against the pros and cons of alternatives. For instance, how does that compare to marketing the property at the price that would actually sell? Moreover, you’ll need to perform additional economic guesswork about what the future holds in terms of appreciation, inflation, etc. to arrive at an expectation of how long the cash drain would exist.
Risk is a bit harder to assess. It’s crucial to understand that if you decide to lease out a home, you are going into business, and every business venture has risks. One of the most obvious ways of mitigating the risk is to hire a management company. By hiring professionals, you decrease your risk and time spent managing the property (and tenants) yourself. However, this increases the cost. As you reduce your risk of litigation, you increase your risk of negative cash-flow, and vice versa… it’s a balancing act, and the risk cannot be eliminated; just managed and minimized.
In considering goals, what do you hope to achieve by renting your property? Are you planning on moving back to your home after a period of time? Will your property investment be a part of your long-term financial planning? Are you relocating or just hoping to wait to sell? These are all great reasons to consider renting your home.
Keep in mind that renting your family home can be emotional. Many homeowners love the unique feel of their homes. It is where their children were raised, and they care more about preserving that feel than maximizing revenue. That’s ok, but it needs to be acknowledged and considered when establishing a correct price and preparing a cash flow analysis. Some owners are so attached to their homes that it may be better for them to “tear off the band-aid quickly” and sell. The alternative of slowly watching over the years as the property becomes an investment instead of a home to them may prove to be more painful than any financial benefit can offset.
Before reaching a conclusion, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the landlord-tenant-law specific to your state (and in some cases, separate relevant ordinances in the city and/or county that your property lies within) and to do some market research (i.e. tour other available similar rentals to see if your financial assumptions are in line with the reality of the competition across the street). If you are overwhelmed by this process, or will be living out of the region, seek counsel with a property management professional. Gaining experience the hard way can be costly. With proper preparation, however, the rewards will be worth it.
The nation’s largest home-building company, Lennar, now integrates Amazon’s “Alexa” smart speaker system as a function in new homes they construct. In the United States alone there are reportedly at least 39 million privately owned smart speakers, and the growth seems likely to only continue. With an eye to the future, we decided to shine a light on a few other “smart” products that can help enhance your home.
- While the iconic heavy door-knocker of 19thcentury Victorian may hold its appeal, high-tech doorbells are an increasingly popular option.
- The Amazon-owned Ring Doorbell is the pace-setter for this rapidly growing industry, allowing for remote monitoring of your home via video, two-way talking functionality, and WiFi-connectivity to allow homeowners to keep tabs on their property no matter how far they roam.
- If you’d like to go elsewhere, the market is flush with alternate options. SkyBell’s ringer allows for free cloud storage of video, while the Zmodo Greet Smart model allows for easy installation using your previous doorbell’s hardware, and comes at a price over $100 under most of the notable options.
- Much has been said of the lamentations regarding the loss in popularity of the family dinner around the table. If your family is drawn to their phones when it’s time to get meals going, a smart refrigerator may be the trick to centering things around the kitchen and dining room again.
- The brands may be familiar but the appliances are all-new. GE, Kenmore, Samsung, and Whirlpool are just a few household names involved in the exciting world of smart appliances.
- The options are wide-ranging in functionality – from Alexa-connected Kenmore smart fridges to Samsung’s full home command center, you can control temperatures in the fridge and in your home, play music and videos, and even pull up recipes on-screen to help your tech-savvy family follow along step-by-step.
Smart Energy Monitors
- Most people like doing things that are energy-efficient, but when it’s financially challenging it’s tough to make that choice. The best products, then, are those that check both boxes.
- Energy monitors like those from Sense, CURB, and Neurio offer the ability to connect into your appliances and circuit board, monitoring energy usage from your smartphone.
- How often are you likely to check your appliances unless they suddenly break down? With these monitors, not only can you maintain appropriate energy usage, you can identify issues before they become disasters.
Pictured from left to right: Cassie Walker Johnson, YouthCare Board Member & Windermere Broker; Jill Jacobi Wood, Co-President, Windermere Real Estate; Christine Wood, Executive Director, Windermere Foundation; Geoff Wood, CEO & Co-President, Windermere Real Estate.
For the past 30 years, Windermere Real Estate has supported more than 500 non-profit agencies dedicated to helping low-income and homeless families through donations from the Windermere Foundation. We have worked with many worthy organizations that provide shelter, food, youth/children’s programs, emergency assistance, education/counseling, school assistance, scholarships, and other services to those in need in our communities. One organization that we have been honored to partner with these past three years is YouthCare, a non-profit in Seattle, Washington that provides critical services to homeless youth. YouthCare works to end youth homelessness and to ensure that young people are valued for who they are and empowered to achieve their potential.
Three years ago, we embarked on a campaign to #tacklehomelessness with the Seattle Seahawks and YouthCare. Together, our goal was to bring resources to help homeless youth move forward, and to inspire our neighbors and friends to take action. Windermere committed to donating $100 for every Seahawks home game defensive tackle to YouthCare. During the three seasons of the campaign, a total of $98,700 was raised to help fund housing and residential care for homeless youth.
In addition to the #tacklehomelessness campaign, Windermere offices throughout the greater Seattle area came together each fall to hold a “We’ve Got You Covered” winter drive for YouthCare. Over three years, a combined total of over 14,600 hats, gloves, scarves, socks, and an assortment of other accessories and cash donations were collected through the drives.
“We fielded a mountain (literally!) of donated items from the Windermere Community,” said Jody Waits, Development & Communications Officer for YouthCare. “Windermere understands the power of home, and that a safe and welcoming place to call your own causes joy. We are so honored to have cheered for the Hawks and had this incredible partnership to tackle homelessness, together! While our friendship is evolving, we know that, united, we’ll always be working to help homeless youth be safe today and build a thriving future for tomorrow. Thank you!”
Although our campaign with YouthCare has come to an end, Windermere is still actively involved with the non-profit. Cassie Walker Johnson, managing broker at the Windermere Wedgwood office, is a member of YouthCare’s Board of Directors.
Windermere is proud to partner with non-profits like YouthCare, and we are thankful for all the generous donations made to the Windermere Foundation, which enable us to continue to support them.
If you would like to learn more about the Windermere Foundation, please visit windermerefoundation.com.
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a current owner looking for a bigger home, the ideas below will help you better navigate that all-important first step: Finding a property that you like (and can afford).
The search for a new home always starts out with a lot of excitement. But if you haven’t prepared, frustration can soon set in, especially in a competitive real estate market. The biggest mistake is jumping into a search unfocused, just hoping to “see what’s available.” Instead, we recommend you first take some time to work through the four steps below.
Step 1: Talk to your agent
Even if you’re just thinking about buying or selling a house, start by consulting your real estate agent. An agent can give you an up-to-the-minute summary of the current real estate market, as well as mortgage industry trends. They can also put you in touch with all the best resources and educate you about next steps, plus much more. If you are interested in finding an experienced agent in your in your area, we can connect you
Step 2: Decide how much home you can afford
It may sound like a drag to start your home search with a boring financial review, but when all is said and done, you’ll be glad you did. With so few homes on the market now in many areas, and so many people competing to buy what is available, it’s far more efficient to focus your search on only the properties you can afford. A meeting or two with a reputable mortgage agent should tell you everything you need to know.
Step 3: Envision your future
Typically, it takes at least five years for a home purchase to start paying off financially, which means, the better your new home suits you, the longer you’ll most likely remain living there.
Will you be having children in the next five or six years? Where do you see your career heading? Are you interested in working from home, or making extra money by renting a portion of your home to others? Do you anticipate a relative coming to live with you? Share this information with your real estate agent, who can then help you evaluate school districts, work commutes, rental opportunities, and more as you search for homes together.
Step 4: Document your ideal home
When it comes to this step, be realistic. It’s easy to get carried away dreaming about all the home features you want. Try listing everything on a piece of paper, then choose the five “must-haves,” and the five “really-wants.”
For more tips, as well as advice geared specifically to your situation, connect with an experienced Windermere Real Estate agent by clicking here.
Windermere Real Estate has officially launched a new branding campaign on the heels of the company’s brand refresh that was completed in 2018. The “All in, for you” campaign is the next step in bringing the refreshed Windermere brand to life by amplifying the company’s unique “why”.
Told, in part, through stories generated by actual Windermere agents, the “All in, for you” campaign sets out to illustrate Windermere’s unique culture, and what has drawn both agents and clients to it for nearly 50 years.
“We’re lucky to have a brand with such a rich legacy, but we have to continue to innovate and press forward,” said Windermere president, OB Jacobi. “The brand refresh that we did last year was part one of Windermere’s brand story; part two is about bringing our stories to life and showing our clients how we’re ‘all in’, for them.”
Development of the “All in, for you” campaign was led by Windermere Vice President of Marketing, Julie Dey, and Portland, OR-based global design firm, Ziba Design, whose clients include companies, such as FedEx, P&G, Adidas, REI, and Intel. Ziba started the year-long process by conducting interviews and holding focus groups with Windermere agents, franchise owners, and staff. They also interviewed past buyers and sellers to better understand the experience of working with a Windermere agent.
“We needed to speak directly with consumers to understand what people want, where real estate is headed, and the differentiated value that Windermere agents provide,” said Rob Wees, Creative Director at Ziba, adding, “Real estate is an infrequent, emotional, and complicated process. And every experience is so different.”
“In an era of technology and convenience, we wanted to show the public the real value of working with a Windermere agent—one that shows how compassion, expertise, advocacy and an over-commitment to service can help people through an incredibly important moment in their lives,” said Wees.
Components of the “All in, for you” campaign include TV, print, digital marketing, out-of-home advertising, and partnerships with key media companies to create unique content opportunities. To kick-off the campaign, TV ads will begin running March 21 in the Seattle market.
“While some real estate companies are telling what is essentially a technology story about ones and zeroes, our story is more about connecting humans with their dreams. And it’s a story we can’t wait to tell,” said Dey.
When I was growing up, my family must have moved a dozen times. After the first few moves, we had it down to a science: timed out, scheduled, down to the last box. Despite our best efforts, plans would change, move-out and move-in days would shift, and the experience would stress the entire family out. Despite the stress, we always managed to settle in our new home and sell our old one before the start of school.
With a lot of planning and scheduling, you can minimize the stress of selling your house and moving. Here are some tips:
Know when you want to be moved out and into your new home and have a backup plan in case it falls through. Before you sell your home, familiarize yourself with local and state laws about selling a home so you’re not caught by surprise if you forget something important.
Lists and schedules are going to be your new best friend through the process. Have a timetable for when you want to sell your house when you have appraisers, realtors, movers, etc. over. Also, keep one for when your things need to be packed and when you need to be moved into the new place. I suggest keeping it on an Excel sheet so you can easily update it as the timeline changes (and it will – stuff happens).
First time selling a house? Check out some great resources on what you need to know. US News has excellent, step-by-step guides on what you need to know to sell. Appraisers and realtors can also be good resources, and since you’ll be working with them through the process, be sure to ask them questions or have them point you to resources.
Have your house appraised before you sell so you know your budget for your new home. This will help you look for an affordable home that meets your family’s needs. It will also help you maximize the amount you can receive for your old home. You can also learn useful information from an appraisal, such as which repairs need to be made, if any.
Does your house need repairs before you move? If so, figure out whether you’ll be covering them, or whether your buyers will (this will be a part of price negotiations, so factor it in with your home budget). Will you need to make repairs in your new house, or will that be covered? Either way, make sure you know which repairs need to be made – and either be upfront with buyers about them or make them before you sell.
Prepare to Move
If you’re moving to a new town or a new state, you need to prepare more than just a new home. Research doctors and dentists, places to eat, and what to do for fun. If you have school-aged children, look at the local school district or private school options – not only to learn how to enroll your kids, but also to get a feel for the school culture, see what extracurricular activities your kids can do, what standards/learning methods your kids’ new school will implement, etc.
Think: how soon are you moving, what will you need to use before you move, what can get boxed and what needs to stay out? The sooner you’re moving out, the sooner you need to pack, but if you have time, just take a day per weekend to organize a room, pack what you want to take and arrange to donate what you want to get rid of.
Moves are a great time to purge old, unwanted and unused stuff from your home. Sometimes, it’s necessary if you’re moving into a smaller space. Either way, as you pack each room, think about whether you use what you’re packing to take with you. If you do, pack it to go. If not, put it in a separate box to go to your local donations place. You can also call some organizations to have your unwanted things picked up, no hassle.
If You Have Kids
Moving with kids can be extra stressful. Be sure to include them in the process. This is a wonderful opportunity to teach younger children about moving and prepare them for the changes it brings. Older children can help out with responsibilities, like packing their room or researching their new town.
Your New Place
Moving into a new place takes some planning as well. Once you’ve bought your new home or condo, design at least a basic outline for where your stuff will be set up. Make necessary repairs and decorate (painting, for example) before you unpack. Ideally, you should have some time to do these things before, but if you don’t, don’t be in a hurry to unpack everything – it can be a hassle to paint if you have all your furniture and bookshelves up!
Staying In Touch and Making New Friends
Finally, moving can mean good-byes with family and/or friends. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with people after you’ve moved, but distance can still weaken these old relationships. Make some time to call or message your old friends to keep in touch. Pair that work with a concerted effort to meet new people. See what hobbies or groups are in your new area and start there. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it can make your new house a home and make your new town a community you can enjoy.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. Patrick is currently a writer for Mountain Springs Recovery as well as on his own blog.
Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in products for the home has increased drastically, while at the same time, homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that indoor pollutants today are anywhere from five to 70 times higher than pollutants in outside air.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. The “new car smell” is another example of this. The smell seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can actually “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
We all know to use paint and glue in a well-ventilated room, but there are many other materials that don’t come with that warning. For instance, there are chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in the resin used to make most cabinets and plywood particle board. It’s also in wall paneling and closet shelves, and in certain wood finishes used on cabinets and furniture. The problems aren’t just with wood, either. Fabrics—everything from draperies to upholstery, bedding, and carpets—are a potent source of VOCs.
The good news about VOCs is that they do dissipate with time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Make smart choices in building materials.
- For floors, use tile or solid wood—hardwood, bamboo, or cork – instead of composites.
- Instead of using pressed particle board or indoor plywood, choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes.
Purify the air that’s there.
- Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, and air out newly renovated or refurnished areas for at least a week, if possible.
- Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly.
- Install air cleaners if needed.
- Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals.
- Plants can help clean the air: good nonpoisonous options include bamboo palm, lady palm, parlor palm, and moth orchids.
- Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner.
Fight the carpet demons.
- Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal.
- Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet.
- Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects, wall coverings, and other high-VOC processes.
- Air out newly carpeted areas before using.
- Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors.
- Clean up water leaks fast.
- Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to keep humidity below 60 percent.
- Don’t carpet rooms that stay damp.
- Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation.
- Kill mold before it gets a grip with one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.
We hope this information is helpful. If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.
Investing in real estate is one of the world’s most venerable pathways to building wealth. When properly managed, income from renting or real estate investment trusts can provide you with the financial security to plan out the rest of your life. The conclusion is easy to envision, but knowing where to begin can be overwhelming, particularly for anyone who has never previously owned a home.
At Windermere our goal is always to improve and support our communities, so we’ve put together a few key things to keep in mind as you enter the world of real estate investment.
Know the right type of investment for you
Investing in real estate needn’t commit you to being a landlord. A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) is a low-maintenance way to get involved in real estate with next to none of the day-to-day monitoring required of direct property management. REITs are trusts that typically own multiple properties, and investors may purchase shares within the REIT. Typically, as the value of the property rises, so too do the values of your shares. If you’d like to dip a toe into real estate investing before diving in fully, a REIT is a great place to start.
Start with your own home
Owning the roof over your head is a basic step towards investing success. Even better, when you plan to live in the home you’re buying (rather than renting it out), you will likely benefit from lower mortgage rates and a cheaper down payment. The reasoning is straightforward – lenders see a loan to people purchasing the home they live in as an investment in people highly committed to the property.
Once you’ve owned your own house for a few years, you can look to purchase a new home to move into. By purchasing the new home with the intent to move in, you’ll be eligible to receive more favorable financing once again. After you’ve secured your new home, your first home is primed to be transformed into a rental property, and you can continue to see a return on your investment. If you’re seeking further support with buying a first, second, or third home, our website and our agents are full of information.
Cast a wide net
The best investment opportunity isn’t always going to be right underneath your nose. While there are logistical benefits to focusing locally with your investment, you may miss more profitable opportunities in another burgeoning market. Real estate is a long game, and patience tends to be rewarded. There’s no cause to rush a decision of this magnitude, so investigating other states and regions to find the property that best fits your situation is a process worth considering.